DUARTE — Civic leaders are wondering what's in a name, and whether changing this city's moniker might improve its image.
Rancho Duarte, some say, has a nicer ring than just plain Duarte, and for the third time in 16 years, sentiment is growing to try to officially change the name.
Rancho Duarte has been the favorite of name-change proponents since the issue arose in 1971, but a few purists prefer Rancho de Duarte. But when the issue was put to voters in 1978, a majority of residents preferred plain old Duarte.
Sentiment was clearly in favor of changing the name when 40 residents and merchants attended an informal town meeting called to discuss the issue last week, with 14 speaking in favor and two against.
"Two years ago I bought a house in Duarte but I hesitated because the city had a negative reputation," said Debra Kuperberg. "But I saw it and it was beautiful. A name change will give us a whole different feeling of pride."
But John Hodges, a 14-year resident, is strongly opposed to changing Duarte's name.
Hodges objects to adding a Rancho or a Rancho de to Duarte because, he says, Duarte is not a ranch and said the change would be costly.
"I fail to see the purpose," he said. "You don't add Rancho because it sounds prettier," he said.
"The subject has come up twice before and the people in Duarte did not want the name changed," he said.
Sue Lawrence said she needed to be convinced:
"I have lived here for 34 years and I have had pride then and now. Pride is not a name, but people in the city working together. Why don't you try 20 years from now when the old-timers are gone?"
Although most of the people at last week's meeting favored a name change, there was disagreement over what the new name should be and what procedure should be followed in making a decision.
Until 1985, state law required that voters approve any name change. But now either the voters or the City Council can decide. At least one resident insists that the voters should decide.
Hodges, citing the 1978 election when the change was defeated, said, "It is important that the same procedure be followed again."
Much of the sentiment in favor of the change appears to come from newer arrivals in the community who said they were reluctant to consider Duarte as a home until they visited the city. Other nonresidents might have better preception of the city if it had a different name not associated with past problems.
But some old-timers, mostly members of the Historical Society, argued for Rancho de Duarte.
J. A. Montgomery, a former councilman and current president of the Historical Society, said that the area was once known as the Ranch of Duarte and that Rancho de Duarte "gives it energy of expression."
The Duarte of today got its start in 1841, when Andres Duarte was granted 7,000 acres of land for his service in the army of the Mexican government. His land became known as Rancho Azusa de Duarte, and gradually was shortened to Duarte. It was incorporated in 1957 after Azusa tried to annex portions of it.
Even when the issue first arose in 1971, proponents couldn't agree on Rancho Duarte or Rancho de Duarte. But the question was settled then by a flip of the coin in favor of Rancho Duarte, said former Councilman Robert Harbicht, who originally proposed renaming the city.
"I was chatting with a co-worker who said he thought Duarte was an ugly name," said Harbicht, who now serves on the Arcadia City Council.
"Rancho Duarte sounded better than just plain Duarte and I wanted to announce to the world that Duarte was changing," he said. "It didn't have the greatest image."
Harbicht can't remember why the proposal, which got as far as the petition stage, fizzled out. But it was revived in 1977 by former Councilman James Coughlin, and the Jaycees, under the leadership of current Mayor John Van Doren, collected names for the petition.
That time, it made the ballot and although it needed approval of two-thirds of the voters, it failed to get even a majority, although there was no organized opposition. The measure was defeated when only 1,631 voted for the change, while 1,964 residents voted no.
"The timing was bad because people had just approved Proposition 13," Van Doren said. "People were anti-government at the time and we were not effective in countering the general mood.
"People were not impressed with the need to reflect our heritage. They saw costs instead of benefits."
The change would have minimal financial impact, said City Manager Jesse Duff. He said that the entrance signs to the city and identification signs on public facilities could be phased in slowly, minimizing expenditures.
A name change would not affect the mail because the zip code would remain the same, said Duarte Postmaster Orville Young.